Mertesacker was interviewed by the BBC after the game and asked if, under the circumstances, that felt like a win. He considered the question carefully and avoided answering it. To me, and I guess Per, it didn’t feel like a win, it felt like a draw, and you don’t finish at the top of the table come May by drawing games against teams who are really not that good.
Yes I know: early days, only two matches in to the League season, everything to play for, don’t overreact, etc etc. But in all honesty despite being unbeaten it’s not a promising start. Squeaking past relegation favourites Palace and having to come from two behind against Everton. The problem is not the players Arsenal have, it’s what they do. They just don’t perform to their ability level as a team. Arsenal have some World class players. They have players who went to the World Cup and showed they can perform on the biggest stage. Everton seem to be largely staffed with players who didn’t get selected for the international sides or who were found wanting in Brazil (Baines). When you compare individuals, Arsenal are a team of galacticos compared to Everton. And yet for the first 45 minutes Arsenal could barely register an attempt on goal. It was the usual ponderous style, slow build up, allow the defence to get into position and then try and pass our way into the six yard box before attempting a shot.
That just isn’t going to work against top teams. Everton got two ahead before the much-maligned Giroud came on and livened things up. Man City or Chelsea would probably have been three or four ahead, the same as last year. This situation has been going on for so long it seems neverending: Arsenal are good enough to usually beat the average teams and the no-hopers, but not good enough to usually beat the best in the League. Sometimes Arsenal will slip up against no-hopers, as every team does occasionally – lots of football matches are won by luck. And sometimes Arsenal will beat one of the best teams, but not often enough to win the title. So we’re between the best and the rest.
Sometimes one of ‘the best’ slips up, as Chelsea did a couple of years ago and Man Utd did last season – so we finish ahead of them, because if there is one thing Arsène is an absolute master of, it’s consistency and not having such a dire season that he gives up and walks or gets the boot. He always does enough (or gets the players to do enough) – and I’m not saying this is a bad thing; umpteen years of CL football is a major achievement, despite the ridicule about the Fourth Place Trophy. The problem is that the group of teams that are as well or better financed than Arsenal now has enough members that even if one slips up the others won’t.
So playing like this Arsenal are not going to win the League. The frustrating thing is that I believe the players, when fit and on form, are good enough to win the League, even without any further additions. I want further additions, because that will improve the chances, but it’s not imperative. It’s not even as important as just playing differently – moving the ball faster, not being bullied off it, not waiting for officials to help out (they usually won’t). I repeat: Arsenal have players that are talented enough, but especially in the first half against Everton they were outclassed as a team. Everton regularly outperform their individual class by being a team that is greater than the sum of it’s parts; Arsenal rarely do.
Yes, the second half was better, and on another day maybe Giroud would have had two or three before Ramsey got the first. As usual there are fine margins in sport and most football matches can go either way on the day. But what was the excuse for that first 45 minutes?